Marriage & Eschatology

I was listening to two of my favorite Bible scholars, Dr. Tom Schreiner and Dr. Greg Beale discuss how to interpret the Book of Revelation. Towards the end, the interviewer asked Tom about over-realized eschatology and underrealized eschatology. Yummy! One of my favorite topics and relevant to 1 Corinthians!

Over-realized eschatology says the New Creation and a heavenly existence is ours now. To put it another way, an over-realized eschatology expects the not yet (those things which are still in the future state) to be realized or to exist now in the present state. Tom’s application was excellent, but he said something that sparked my attention. He talked about how over-realized eschatology applies to marriage (he also applied to parenting, the church, etc). Over-realized eschatology looks at marriage and expects too much. This erroneous way of thinking looks to our spouse and virtually or really expects perfection. In this view, our spouse is not a sinner who is being sanctified and has not yet arrived, but our spouse is seen as one who should be “practically perfect” in every way. He or she exists to meet my needs. He or she exists to make me happy. He or she is to execute domestic duties, both external and internal, with perfection. Right actions and right motives, all the time. They are to love me perfectly, serve me and the family perfectly, balance all of life’s demands perfectly. There is massive disappointment when the standard of perfection (which only belongs to the not yet) is not attained. Often the spouse with an over-realized eschatology says, “Well it’s not as if I expect perfection, but she could sure do a lot better than she does.” Do not be too quick to dismiss your actual demands as expecting too much because you tag with it, “not expecting perfection.”

Over-realized eschatology in marriage causes the eschatologically challenged spouse to be discontent with their spouse in this present evil age. Over-realized eschatology eclipses our ability to see our spouse as a sinner in need of God’s grace and mercy, just like us. Over-realized eschatology whittles away at our affection because we are in a constant state of frustration.

How does biblical eschatology affect marriage? It is simple, we live in the tension of the already and the not yet. If I am married to a Christian, I am married to someone who still struggles with indwelling sin, like I do. If I am married to a Christian, I am married to someone who is in process by the grace of Christ the power of the Spirit. He or she is still growing.

This does not mean I abandon all my expectations in marriage. Not at all. But it means my expectations are tempered by the reality that the age to come has not come yet. I temper my expectations with the reality of indwelling sin and the slow process of progressive sanctification. It means I spend more time praying for my spouse and myself, for grace, for growth, for wisdom, and love. It means I spend less time complaining about “this woman” or “this man” whom Thou hast given to me! It means I spend more time seeking to live out of grace and joy in a world and an age which is passing away. It means I learn to love my spouse as sinner saved by grace. It means I do not give up hope on a marriage that grows in giving glory to God, because He who began the good work in me, and in my spouse, will complete it in the day of Christ Jesus (Phil. 1:6).

In my own experience, I learned this the hard way. I am married to a wonderfully competent and tirelessly energetic person. My expectations were high. God hammered me into loving her as a sinner by hammering home my own sinfulness. Sinfulness has a way of deflating over-realized eschatology. Seeing myself as a sinner, in progress, helps me to love my spouse as a sinner in progress because it reminds me that neither one of us are what will be. It will only be when He appears, that we will be like Him, because we shall see Him as He is (1 John 3:2). But then, we will not be married anymore like we are now. So perhaps, marriage is one of those things that prepares us for the age to come, by deepening our humility, our patience, and our love.